Defending Morgan (Mountain Mercenaries #3) by Susan Stoker

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Dispatched to the Dominican Republic to rescue a kidnapped child, former Navy SEAL Archer “Arrow” Kane makes a startling discovery: another hostage—Morgan Byrd, a very beautiful and very well-known missing person who disappeared off the streets of Atlanta a year ago. She’s brave, resilient, and unbroken. All Arrow wants to know is why she ended up in a shack in Santo Domingo. All he feels is the desire to protect.

Morgan is done being the victim and is determined to find out who hates her so much that they want her gone—but not dead. Until then, she has Arrow, an alpha stranger who’s offering a warm and safe place to hide. But as the passion between them flares, so does the fear that whoever took Morgan will do anything to get her back. For Arrow, protecting this woman with a mysterious enemy is the most dangerous mission of his life. And it’s worth every beat of his heart.

Rating: D+

Susan Stoker is a popular and prolific author of romantic suspense novels and has written several long-running series in the genre.  I recently listened to an audiobook of one of her titles, and wasn’t wowed by it; I’d failed to realise it was the last book (of nine) in a series, but I wasn’t lost so much as I’d clearly missed out on some important details regarding the central couple, whose relationship had been building since book one.  So I thought I’d give the author another try, and picked up Defending Morgan when it came up for review.  I knew it was part of a series – it’s book three of Mountain Mercenaries – but the series factor wasn’t the cause of the problems I had with it.  I was able to follow the story and action, but it’s slow, there isn’t enough plot to fill a full-length novel, the characters are bland, the romance is limp and much of the dialogue is wordy, repetitive, and unrealistic.

The story opens in media res as a three man team comprised of Archer Kane (aka Arrow – geddit?), Black and Ball (yes, these guys might not be in the military any more, but they still have to have nicknames) effects the rescue of a little girl called Nina, who was kidnapped and removed from the US by her father.  The men get a surprise when they discover Nina isn’t alone; a young woman Arrow recognises as Morgan Byrd – who has been missing for around a year – is with her.  There’s no time to ask questions; the men get Morgan and Nina away, but decide it’ll be safer for them to split up and make their way to the safe house in two groups – Black and Ball will take Nina and Morgan will travel with Arrow.

After just a few pages, we’re told that Arrow feels some sort of deep connection to Morgan –

She was different from all the other women he’d saved over the years. It was as if he could sense her determination. He was proud of her… He also felt more protective towards this woman than anyone else he’d rescued.

The first third of the book deals with the rescue and Arrow and Morgan making their way to the safe house,  but even though they have a couple of run-ins with her captors, it’s pretty stodgy going. It’s mostly Arrow going all ga-ga over Morgan and thinking about how amazing she is to have borne what she’s gone through and how much he wants to protect her, in similar vein to the passage I quoted above.  The author makes it clear, very subtly, that Morgan was repeatedly raped, and it’s clear Arrow knows it, too, so I suppose it’s in his favour that he doesn’t start with the mental lusting; instead barely a page goes by without him thinking or telling her how incredible she is.

Once the group are back together, they manage to get Morgan – who has no passport or papers – out of the Dominican Republic and back into the US without any problem, and then set about working out who had her kidnapped and was paying to have her kept there indefinitely.

And that’s basically the plot.  We get cameos by the heroes and heroines of the previous books, various scenes with the team of heroes-in-waiting, and a backstory for the mysterious Rex, who set up the Mountain Mercenaries (a group of former military guys who are sent in to rescue women and children in precarious circumstances around the world) after his wife disappeared.  (I’m betting his will be the final book in the set.)  But the plot is tissue-paper thin, and as in the first third, most of the rest of the book is devoted to Arrow telling Morgan how wonderful she is and saying stuff like this:

“I saw a woman who was scared out of her skull, but wasn’t afraid to stick up for a small child who needed her.  I saw a woman who had been through hell, but somehow the goodness in her still shone from every pore… Even before I knew who you were, and what your story was, I knew you were special.”

“Just by your presence, you’ve made this apartment more of a home than it’s been since I moved in.  You’ve filled it with your energy and goodness.”

Jeez.  Pass the bucket.

Thankfully, therapy is part of Morgan’s recovery.  She’s attracted to Arrow, but worried that she’ll never be able to have sex with him – a valid concern given what happened to her.  But guess what?  Arrow isn’t worried.

“My dick isn’t going to fall off if we don’t make love.  We can get creative if you aren’t comfortable with penetration.  And I can always masturbate.”

Wow.  He always knows exactly the right thing to say, huh?

The search for the person behind Morgan’s kidnap goes pretty much nowhere until the villain reveals themselves and OMG, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer awfulness of their internal monologue.

After two books, I think I can say, categorically, that this author isn’t for me.  There’s no romance, no suspense, page after page of sappy sentimentalism and I just can’t buy all these big, tough alpha guys giving each other relationship advice.  Arrow pretty much never calls Morgan by name, re-christening her ‘beautiful’, and when one of the previous heroines came out with this:

“If he wants to protect me by not letting me watch the news and by doing his best not to talk about the missions he goes on with his friends, I’m okay with that because it means he loves me.”

I almost dropped my Kindle.  Heroines in romantic suspense novels are generally not damsels in distress who wilt at the first sign of trouble; they’re supposed to be as capable, clever and tough as their heroes and able to rescue themselves (and him) when the necessity arises.  But I read that, and thought I’d gone through a wormhole and back to the 1970s.

There are plenty of four and five star reviews for Defending Morgan on Goodreads, so clearly the author has a dedicated fan-base, and if you’ve enjoyed her books before, this might work for you.  But I found it slow, corny, and boring – and I can’t recommend it.

International Player by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being labelled a player never stopped me from being successful with women. Until I met Truly Harbury. Truly was the first girl who ever turned me down. The first female friend I ever had. And she might just be the first woman with whom I ever fall in love.

When an emergency means she needs my help running her family’s charity, I’m happy to introduce her to the glitz and glamour of the London business world – taking her to dinners, coaching her through speeches, zipping up the sexy evening gown I helped her pick out. The more time we spend together, the more I want to convince her I’m not a man to avoid, that we’re not as unsuited as she believes.

She sees herself as the book-reading, science-loving introvert while I’m the dangerous, outgoing charmer. She thinks I love parties and people whereas she prefers pajamas and takeout. What she doesn’t realize is that I like everything about her – the way her smile lights up a room, how her curves light up my imagination, and especially the way her lips taste when coated with tequila.

She’s the first woman with whom I ever fell in love. I just need to know if she could ever love me, too.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – D

*sigh* International Player is another of those books that reminded me why I don’t read or listen to all that many contemporary romances.  The plot is pretty much a repeat of all the books by this and similar authors (you know the ones); predictable, clichéd and revolving around the fact that the leads NEVER HAVE A FUCKING CONVERSATION ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP.  I only picked it up because the narrators are excellent – and they’re the only reason I finished it.

Truly Harbury has had a crush on her brother-in-law’s best friend Noah for years.  They were good mates before he left London to work in New York, but haven’t really kept in touch (which is weird, if they were such great friends) and she doesn’t know he’s back in England until her twin sister Abigail – with whom Truly runs the family’s charitable foundation – tells her.

Noah is, of course, sex-on-a-stick, and Truly keeps telling herself not to let her crush become a ‘thing’. Noah is a player and not at all the settling-down type – but when Abigail has pregnancy complications which mean she’s going to be confined to bed for the next five months, Noah is the ideal solution to the problem of how Truly is going to do all the schmoozing necessary to keep the donations rolling in at the foundation.  She’s very much a back-room girl while Abigail has been the one to do all the presentations and attend all the glitzy parties – Truly is an introvert who has panic attacks at the mere thought of all that.

So Truly and Noah do the Pygmalion thing as he helps her with her presentations and her wardrobe, and it’s all fine until she comes to the conclusion that the only way to tamp down her crush and get Noah out of her system is to – you guessed it – have lots of no-strings sex with him.  Yeah,  because that always works out SO well.  Even though she comes up with a list of rules like “I don’t want to hear about your other women” (he doesn’t have any) and “we only shag by appointment”, which Noah thinks are a bit weird, he’s thinking with his small brain by this point and completely prepared to go with the flow.

But as this goes on, he realises that the friendship side of their relationship – which he’d valued highly – has disappeared, and he can’t work out what’s going on and why Truly is so reluctant to spend any time with him out of bed.  Of course, they don’t TALK about any of this and things come to a head when Truly decides she has to end things because the whole casual sex thing hasn’t worked (what a surprise) and she has to get out before she falls any more deeply in love with him.

I found myself actively disliking her by this point.  She knows Noah has never been one for serious relationships in the past and judges him completely based on that, choosing to ignore the fact that he’s a decent guy with his heart in the right place who obviously cares about her and wants her for more than what happens between them in bed.  She ends things without giving him any say in the matter simply because she’s convinced he’ll get tired of her soon.  Because it’s all about her and her need to protect her heart and sod the guy who’s propped her up for the last five months and who she used to think of as her best friend.

I know International Player isn’t typical of all contemporary romances, but it’s typical of a huge and incredibly popular chunk of the market at the moment.  I have nothing against the sort of fluff this aspires to be, but even fluff needs to be well-written, the characters need to be likeable and their motivations need to make sense – and this just isn’t the case here.  I liked Noah well enough, but Truly was immature and selfish and I just wanted her to go away and for Noah to find someone who could appreciate him.

Thankfully, because this audio is part of the Audible Romance Package, I didn’t buy or use a credit on it – if I had, it would be going straight back.  Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East are terrific performers, but even they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear like this one, and I cringed at some of the dialogue they had to utter.  Kudos to them for being able to do it and not sound as though they had their tongues in their cheeks, but that’s their job and they do it very well.  All the things you’d expect from such experienced performers – pacing, enunciation, characterisation and differentiation – are good, they inject the right amount of expression into their performances, and the love scenes are delivered unselfconsciously and with conviction, but that’s not enough to make for a good listen when those performances are tied to such a weak and uninspiring story.

There are better examples of this type of book out there. Unless you absolutely HAVE to listen to every single thing Shane East and/or Saskia Maarleveld has ever recorded, go and find one of those instead.


Duchess by Deception (Gilded #1) by Marie Force

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Derek Eagan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he’s not a man. He’s a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe’s disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke’s home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke’s estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek’s lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount’s pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

Rating: D

Marie Force is a very well-known and popular writer of romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels, and is now turning her hand to writing historical romance.  Based on this first foray into the genre, I’m afraid I have to say that she should stick to writing what she knows best, because Duchess by Deception is simply awful; it’s based on a flawed premise and is full of more really tired clichés than you can shake a bundle of sticks at.

Derek, Duke of Westwood, came into his title at the tender age of six following the death of his parents in a carriage accident.  He has grown into his role and is a dedicated young man who manages his responsibilities admirably and is genuinely concerned for the welfare of all those who depend on him – even moreso as his thirtieth birthday approaches.  Because, you see, some ancestor or other put a stipulation in his will that the holders of the title MUST be married by the age of thirty, or they will forfeit it and the dukedom will pass to the next heir.  And Derek, with just a week or so go to before his thirtieth birthday,  hasn’t yet found a woman he wants to marry.  The new crop of debutantes each Season are more vacuous than the last, (and don’t get me started on the sexism inherent in statements like this – “Is there one among them who cares about anything other than her hair or her gown or her slippers?”) – and while he isn’t necessarily holding out for a love match, he does want a wife with whom he can hold intelligent conversations and share affectionate companionship.

Okay, so now let’s rewind.  Derek must marry by his thirtieth birthday or abdicate his title. Er, nope.  British inheritance law doesn’t work like that. It does not allow for a peer to make any stipulations of this sort as to how his title progresses; a title is not a possession and thus is not something that can be bequeathed or have conditions attached to it.  For instance, the Queen doesn’t have a say in who succeeds her (although in very, very exceptional circumstances, I daresay she could, which would involve all sorts of constitutional upheaval and acts of Parliament) and as far as I know, this goes for the peerage as well. So the novel’s plot is based on a completely erroneous premise, which, in my book, is enough to sink it without trace.

Moving on.

Derek, being the conscientious young man he is, is determined to do his duty and find a wife by his birthday, especially as his current heir is his father’s brother – Derek’s uncle – who is a grasping, dastardly individual who has always wanted the title for himself (he and Derek’s father were twins and Anthony was born second) because he deserved it.  It was he who engineered the accident that killed Derek’s parents (this isn’t a spoiler, as it’s revealed in the first chapter) and he still chafes that Derek wasn’t with them, as he was supposed to have been – and so his evil plot to become the Duke was foiled.  Can I get a ‘MUAHAHAHAHA’? And just in case we aren’t clear about Anthony’s ambitions, his mistress is there to hit readers over the head with a tea-tray:

“You ponder the fate of your nephew and the duchy you covet.”

Anthony raised an imperious brow.  “It is rather impertinent for (of?) you to speak so boldly of things that are none of your concern.”

Seriously?  I wonder if Ms. Force has read any historical romance since the 1980s.

Anyway.  While travelling back to his estate, Derek comes across a filthy boy in shoddy clothing digging in a field.  Wondering why there is a filthy boy in shoddy clothing digging in one of his fields, Derek stops to ask questions, the boy bolts, Derek catches him, the boy passes out – but not before his cap falls off to reveal long dark tresses… and lo! ‘tis the heroine in disguise.   Arrived at his ancestral pile, Derek’s protective instincts are on high alert, and even though the young woman is dirty and smelly, he unaccountably wants to care for her, crawl into bed next to her and “hold her until the fever broke…”  So he does. (After she’s had a bath, natch.)

When she awakens and is told she’s at the Duke of Westwood’s estate, the young woman – Catherine – is immediately fearful and makes clear her dislike of peers of the realm, so Derek decides not to tell her he’s a duke, but instead introduces himself as the estate manager because he wants to know more about her.  But that has to be put on hold while they get back into bed for spurious reasons and cuddling and flirting ensues.  She’s just woken from a fever, they don’t know each other,  they’ve barely said two words to each other and yet she comes up with things like:

“How do you expect me to sleep with a big, rutting beast in my bed?”

To which he responds:

“Have no fear, my dear lady. Your shrewishness has caused my ‘thing’ to wither and die… I can assure you that you’re entirely safe from my fornicating tendencies”

And then she wonders – what, exactly, was that tingle between her legs?

Jesus H. Christ on a cracker. We’re 11% into the book by this point, by the way.

In a nutshell.  Catherine is running from the slobbery old bloke she’s supposed to marry and doesn’t want anything to do with the aristocracy. Two days after their first meeting, she and Derek are sucking face and then shagging (and joy of joys, she gets to say “It will never fit!”) and at the 30% mark, they’re running off to Gretna Green to get married, presumably so he can marry her without revealing his true identity, which is dumb, but no dumber than the other dumb stuff in this dumb book.

No prizes for guessing what happens next.

The writing is stilted and often unintentionally funny (see quotes above) – not what I’d expect from an experienced author – and the characters are barely two dimensional.  Given Ms. Force is known for writing steamy sex scenes, the ones in this book are dull and there is zero chemistry between the leads.  There’s a secondary romance that also takes off like a rocket, between Derek’s cousin (Anthony’s son) and Catherine’s younger sister, and to call the villainous Anthony ‘cartoonish’ is, frankly, to insult cartoon villains the world over.

I’ve said enough for you to realise that you should give this book a wide berth – unless you’re a masochist or just want a good laugh at the terrible dialogue.  If you’ve never read Marie Force before, do yourself a favour and read the excellent Five Years Gone, or one of her romantic suspense titles.  I hope she’s not going to stop writing those, because in spite of its lovely cover and less-used setting of 1902 (which is largely irrelevant to the story anyway),  Duchess by Deception is terrible.

Fade to Black (Krewe of Hunters #24) by Heather Graham (audiobook) – Narrated by Luke Daniels

fade to black

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Where dreams go to die…

Starring in a cult TV show was a blessing for Marnie Davante, especially now that her former fame could support her future dream of starting a children’s theater. So she’ll work the convention circuit. But then a costar is brazenly murdered in front of her. With a killer who vanishes into thin air with seemingly inhuman skill, and strange events plaguing Marnie, she feels she can’t even trust her own senses.

Although his dear departed parents were famous actors, PI Bryan McFadden is about as far from Hollywood as you can get. The former military man is reluctant to get involved in such a bizarre case, but it quickly becomes obvious that Marnie is in grave danger, and he is compelled to help. It’s unclear if the killer is an obsessed fan or something more sinister. Could the show’s cast be cursed? How can Bryan keep Marnie safe when it becomes apparent there’s a force determined to make this her final curtain call?

Rating: Narration – B : Content – D+

While Fade to Black is billed as (wait for it!) twenty-fourth in Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series, there is (fortunately) no need to have read or listened to any of the others, as the novel is basically a standalone. I’ve been on a bit of a romantic suspense kick lately and the synopsis – a story of murder involving cast members of a cult TV show – sounded interesting, so I requested a review copy, hoping for a suspenseful, steamy listen with complex characters and some high-stakes action.

Sigh. You guessed it. I got pretty much the opposite. No romance to speak of – just a couple of very short, almost fade to black (see what I did there? :P) sex scenes – stereotypical characters and a plot as exciting as watching grass grow. Fortunately however, the narration by Luke Daniels was engaging enough to keep me listening, although I really wish he’d been given better material to work with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Born to be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3) by Eloisa James

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there’s only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he’s chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia’s desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he’ll find her a prince.

As usual, there’s no problem Parth can’t fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who’s completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

Rating: D+

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that Eloisa James’ books have generally been rather hit or miss (mostly miss) for me.  I’ve read some and enjoyed them – I gave Three Weeks with Lady X a DIK at All About Romance, and have rated other books highly, but after Seven Minutes in Heaven, I decided it was probably time for us to part ways. There are plenty of other books out there to read, so no big loss.  But… this is Eloisa James, right? One of the biggest names in historical romance.  Maybe I’ve missed something?  It’s that feeling that has made me go back to her books occasionally, so I decided I’d pick up Born to be Wilde, the third book in her Wildes of Lindow Castle series, just to see if maybe I’d got it wrong and she would wow me again.

I should have had the courage of my convictions and stayed away.

Born to be Wilde is nonsensical superficiality from start to finish.  The story is pretty much non-existent, the characters are bland and unmemorable, the romance is flat and seriously underdeveloped and the eleventh-hour conflict is utterly ridiculous.

Beautiful, vivacious and wealthy, Lavinia Gray is used to having men at her feet.  She’s turned down numerous proposals of marriage, secure in the knowledge that she could afford to wait for the right one – until she discovered that her mother’s spendthrift ways and gambling habits mean they’re broke and worse, that her mother resorted to stealing valuable jewellery and selling it for cash.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, she’s become addicted to laudanum to such a degree that she’s sent to a sanatorium at the beginning of the book to be weaned off the drug.  So – Lavinia is desperate.  She needs money and she needs it quickly if she’s to prevent her mother’s being carted off to Newgate; and what’s the easiest way to obtain it?  Yep – marry it.  The book opens with Lavinia turning up at the hero’s room and asking him to marry her.

Parth Sterling was born in India to an English father and Indian mother, but was sent to live in England at the age of five where, as a ward of the Duke of Lindow, he grew up with the Wildes and is regarded by them as a member of the family.  He’s a self-made man, one of the wealthiest in England, and even owns a bank.  He and Lavinia have known each other for years; she thinks he thinks she’s an empty-headed hat-fetishist, he thinks she thinks he’s a prig. Based on the fact that the worst insult she can come up with for him is “Appalling Parth”, I’d tend to agree with his assessment.  There’s no doubt she’s beautiful and desirable… but Parth doesn’t want to marry her.  Instead, though, he’ll help her to find a husband and sets about presenting her to highly eligible men, none of whom – of course – is good enough for her.

That’s pretty much the sum of their relationship.  She thinks he doesn’t like her; he’s confused about his feelings because she’s frivolous and he wants the woman in his life to have a bit more substance.  (Hence his intention to court a lovely Italian contessa). But of course, Lavinia DOES have substance; when she offers to put together a trousseau for her dear friend Diana – who is marrying the heir to the Duke of Lindow – the mercer (fabric merchant) suggests that with her exquisite taste (of which he has little discernible evidence), Lavinia should set up as a kind of personal stylist to society ladies, and that he would pay her a commission for using his fabrics.  Um.  Essentially –  a tradesman suggests that a Lady works for money.  In 1780.  Nope.  Not buying it.

Lavinia loves the idea, and thinks she can earn enough to pay off her mother’s debts AND enough to provide herself with a decent dowry. She adores fashion, so selecting fabrics, trimmings and designs isn’t really ‘work’, but doing something she loves.  She spends the next few weeks working her fingers to the bone – we’re told she often works late into the night and forgets to eat – preparing this trousseau, which seems excessive.  I know making clothes by hand is very labour-intensive, but still, it’s presented as though she’s working on achieving world peace or how to feed the world, rather than on sewing gowns.

By around two-thirds of the way through, Lavinia and Parth have both realised they were wrong about each other, that they’re wildly (!) attracted to each other and have jumped into bed.  Parth somehow has a condom to hand for their first time – it’s not the use of it I query, because of course they were around, it’s more than he has one so conveniently to hand in a room not his own bedroom.  They didn’t come in little foil packets back in the eighteenth century.

Of course, Parth wouldn’t have taken Lavinia to bed had he not intended to marry her, something which appears to go without saying for both of them.  All is going to plan until that eleventh-hour conflict I mentioned, which is shoe-horned in for the sake of it, and only provides yet another opportunity for Lavinia to bemoan her own unworthiness and conviction that Parth doesn’t respect her.

The story is basically one big trope-fest, and there is absolutely NO sense whatsoever of time or place in the novel; had it not been for the timestamps at the beginning of each chapter telling me events were taking place in 1780, I’d have had no idea when the story was set, in spite of the extremely tedious descriptions of patterns and fabrics.  And the fact that the hero is Anglo-Indian is mentioned a few times in passing and has so little bearing on his character or the story that I have no idea why the author chose to give him that background.  I am well aware that mixed-race relationships/marriages were not uncommon at this time and have absolutely no issues whatsoever with the hero being of mixed parentage.  But in the same way as the novel having no sense of time or place, there’s no sense of what his heritage means to him or how it has shaped him.

It’s all so much froth and banal superficiality.  I like a well-written piece of fluff as well as the next person, but Born to be Wilde is just DULL.  The antics of the Wildes basically scream “LOOK AT US – WE’RE UNCONVENTIONAL!” the humour is forced and unfunny, Parth and Lavinia share no chemistry whatsoever and Ms. James plays fast-and-loose with the conventions of the time.  There are a lot of authors out there – I won’t name names, but it’s a long list – who write stuff like this all the time; characters in pretty frocks and tight breeches who pay no attention to social convention and speak and act with twenty-first sensibilities.  If that’s what you want to read – and some authors do it very well – then fine, but part of the challenge of historical romance is, surely, in creating and developing a romantic relationship between characters who would, in the real world of the period, not have been allowed to spend time together alone – and making their interactions believable.

Mission SO not accomplished.  As I said on Goodreads.  “That’s three and a bit hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

I’m sorry Ms. James – you have a large number of fans who love your work and good luck to you and them.  But I’m done.


Fatal Mistake (White Knights #1) by Susan Sleeman (audiobook) – Narrated by Rachel Dulude

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in best-selling author Susan Sleeman’s riveting romantic suspense novel.

Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it.

Tara Parrish is the only person ever to survive an attack by the Lone Wolf bomber. Scared and emotionally scarred by her near death, she goes into hiding with only one plan – to stay alive for another day. She knows he’s coming after her, and if he finds her, he will finish what he started.

Agent Cal Riggins has had only one goal for the past six months – to save lives by ending the Lone Wolf’s bombing spree. To succeed, he needs the help of Tara Parrish, the one person who can lead them to the bomber. Cal puts his all into finding Tara, but once he locates her, he realizes if he can find her, the Lone Wolf can, too. He must protect Tara at all costs, and they’ll both need to resist the mutual attraction growing between them to focus on hunting down the bomber, because one wrong move could be fatal.

Rating: Narration – C : Content – D-

I wasn’t even fifteen minutes into Susan Sleeman’s romantic suspense novel, Fatal Mistake, when I realised I’d made a catastrophic mistake in deciding to listen to it. I’m a fan of the sub-genre and am always on the look-out for authors to add to my “must read/listen” list, but instead, I’ve found one to add to my “must avoid” list. The storyline is trite, predictable and filled with stereotypical characters, info dumps, hackneyed dialogue and more introspection and internal monologuing than one can shake a stick at. The principals seem to have aced “Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions 101”; there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, which means that characters make huge leaps of logic and arrive at conclusions for no reason that is made clear to the listener, and the author completely fails to create even the vaguest sense of sexual attraction between the principals. Reviews the novel are overwhelmingly positive, and the blurb promised a “riveting” read… but all I was riveted to was my watch as I kept checking to see how far I was from the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dead Girl Running (Cape Charade #1) by Christina Dodd

This title may be purchased from Amazon

I have three confessions to make:
1. I’ve got the scar of gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams…and that’s half a lie.

Girl running…from a year she can’t remember, from a husband she prays is dead, from homelessness and fear. Tough, capable Kellen Adams takes a job as assistant manager of a remote vacation resort on the North Pacific Coast. There amid the towering storms and the lashing waves, she hopes to find sanctuary. But when she discovers a woman’s dead and mutilated body, she’s soon trying to keep her own secrets while investigating first one murder…then another.

Now every guest and employee is a suspect. Every friendly face a mask. Every kind word a lie. Kellen’s driven to defend her job, her friends and the place she’s come to call home. Yet she wonders–with the scar of a gunshot on her forehead and amnesia that leaves her unsure of her own past–could the killer be staring her in the face?

Rating: D+

I enjoy a good mystery or romantic suspense novel and have been lucky enough to find some fantastically good authors in the genre who are now on my ‘must read’ list.  I’m always on the look-out for the next addition, so I eagerly picked up Christina Dodd’s Dead Girl Running, the first book in her new Cape Charade series, hoping for an intense, exciting and complex read – aaaaaand, well, let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be adding Ms. Dodd to that list of ‘must read’ authors on the strength of it.  The book turned out to contain a myriad of hackneyed tropes and plot points (and plot holes) that made it seem as though the author had too many ideas and, instead of undertaking some judicious pruning and concentrating on the one or two strongest ones, decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck.  What we end up with is a classic ‘base-under-siege’ type plot, a too-good-to-be-true, dull heroine, a lot (dare I say – too many) of barely two-dimensional, stereotypical secondary characters, and writing so clichéd in places that it made me wince – or laugh, which I’m sure wasn’t Ms. Dodd’s intention.

Kellen Adams was a captain in the army and served in Afghanistan before returning to the US.  She has recently taken up a position as assistant manager at the Cape Charade resort in coastal Washington state and is determined to make it her home.  When the resort owners – the elderly Leo and Annie di Luca – decide to take a holiday for the first time in ages, they leave Kellen in charge, confident in her ability to keep things running smoothly.  It’s a quiet time of year, there are not many guests booked in, so it’s just a case of keeping things ticking over until the di Lucas return.  That is, until some decomposing human remains are discovered on the grounds, which are identified as belonging to the previous assistant manager, Priscilla Carter, who disappeared without explanation less than six months earlier.  It’s impossible to keep something like that a secret from the staff and guests, and the atmosphere at the resort becomes one of fear and suspicion; everyone is a suspect and Kellen isn’t sure who she can trust.

We learn early on that Kellen isn’t actually who she says she is; she’s an abused wife whose husband tried to murder her (and died in the attempt), and who is still looking over her shoulder for any sign that her his family might be catching up with her.  She’s also the survivor of a gunshot to the head – something I found hard to credit – which caused her to lose a year of her life; she was in a coma for all that time, and after waking up confused and fearful, ran from the hospital and to an army recruiting office. We’re asked to believe the shot to the head is the reason she now has a unique mental ability to acquire, store, process and recall information, but I’m still wondering how it didn’t simply blow her brains out…  Whatever the case, having both incredibly traumatic and dramatic events happen to the same person seemed to me to be taking things a bit too far. I understand that this is the first book in a series, but in spite of all the things that have happened to her, Kellen is not a well-defined or interesting character, and I couldn’t warm to her or find anything to draw me in.

The same is true of the secondary characters, of whom there are a lot; they’re poorly defined and stereotypical, and there’s no time for the author to flesh any of them out or give them actual personalities. We’ve got a former movie star, an upbeat, preppy personal trainer of the type you want to strangle, a bitchy hostess who is bitter that she was passed over for Kellen’s job, an enigmatic (though hot) guest who says he’s an author (he isn’t) and a handful of Kellen’s army buddies now employed at the resort – and that’s less than half the list.  There has to be a fairly large pool of suspects to make the identity of the villain hard to guess, but given that there are no clues pointing to that person, I can’t see there was much of a point. In any case, the reveal comes out of the blue, but not after Kellen jumps to a completely wrong conclusion as to his identity so fast it made me wonder if I’d skipped a few pages.

The mystery plot, concerning the smuggling of valuable artefacts off the coast near the resort is interesting, and when the book concentrates solely on this aspect of the story, it’s a good read and I was eager to keep turning the pages.  But that doesn’t really happen until well into the second half of the book, and doesn’t last for long; after that, we’re back in the land of the clichéd and utterly ridiculous, which then culminates in a completely unbelievable plot twist that contradicts something explicitly stated earlier on in the book.

I’m not sure whether to categorise Dead Girl Running as ‘mystery’ or ‘romantic suspense’ because it doesn’t really fit either.  If it’s a mystery, it’s very simplistic and quite clumsily done; if romantic suspense, there’s pretty much no romance and not much suspense, so that doesn’t fit either.  The writing is generally solid, although there is a LOT of telling rather than showing, and this is especially evident in the way we’re shown Kellen’s supposedly unique mental ability working.  Whenever she meets someone, we get a ‘note card’ of what is supposedly going through her head, which lists background data on that person and her feelings about them  – which is, I suppose, an easier way of disseminating that information than actually spending time on developing that character and letting the reader get to know them; it smacks of lazy writing.

In short, Dead Girl Running is deader than a dead duck dead in the water.  Give it a miss and pick up something by Rachel Grant or Loreth Anne White instead.